Calgary EDU App Challenge: Nov 6-8, 2015

By Hannah Cree, Edu App Challenge Event Organizer



The Idea

It started with a simple meeting about finding an app developer for Learning Through The Arts – Digital Media Arts program. The educational program uses arts-based activities to teach the core curriculum by providing teachers with creative tools to engage all students in math, science, language arts, social studies, and more. This turned into a discussion about the need for technology in schools, and preparing our students for not only the jobs of today, but for the jobs of the future.

It takes more than one app developer to create educational tools for students. It takes students, educators, school boards, businesses, community organizations, designers, creators and coders to build something truly valuable.  

Getting buy-in from the community level is essential in navigating this complicated landscape.

It Takes A Village to Create An App

Tasked with the vision of bringing people together to address the challenges of incorporating technology into education, Learning Through The Arts set out to launch the first ever EDU App Challenge in Calgary. It would be based on the concept of a Hackathon, but with an education focus.  

The Question: What would happen if you brought together students, educators, coders, designers, marketers, creators and visionaries in one room for 48 hours? What would they create? 

This was not an easy task, but the community came together quickly to make this vision a reality in just three short months. Telus donated $5,000 worth of prizes, The Royal Conservatory – Learning Through The Arts provided $5,000 in cash prizes, and Robots and Pencils donated their Pencilcase software to create the app prototypes, plus provided support throughout the event. 

The Hunter Centre for Entrepreneurship & Innovation covered the costs of the beautiful space in MacEwan Hall at the University of Calgary for the weekend. And of course, we have to mention the community organizations who shared the EDU Challenge through their networks so we could get the most exposure and registrations. Chic GeekOctopus & Son Social MediaCalgary Arts Development,CyberaPlace2Give, Startup CalgaryCollective 12 | 12Dexterity VenturesVictor Panlilio Photographyand Dissolve committed to partnering with us to ensure that our EDU Challenge would be a success. A few media stories from the Metro and Techvibes also did a fantastic job at boosting our exposure.  

The Challenges

Learning Through The Arts outlined three challenges they faced when working with students. They needed solutions to these challenges in order to deliver their curriculum in schools:

    How could an app help students and their friends' control the way they want to be seen or viewed online? For example, could it alert them when they’re doing something in the moment that they might regret later, based on keywords, for example, and hold off submitting until later?

    Is it possible to create an app that makes it easy to put video clips together in different ways to express an individual’s ideas? Something more intuitive that doesn’t use a timeline, or cut and paste? And something that makes it really easy to play with the order and timing of the clips?

    For any learning to occur, students need to be able to explain the choices they make when they are creating a video or other expression of learning, and teachers need to be able to ask questions about those choices. How can an app support this kind of reflection and questioning in a way that doesn’t completely block the flow of student’s ideas? Is there a way to support this within a simple app that allows users to upload photos, add text or voice over, and create a slide show?

During the event

Friday, November 6, 2015, came quickly and we kicked off the weekend with talks from Shaun Elder, Executive Director of Learning Through The Arts, Julie Barton of the Calgary Board of Education and Patrick Lor, co-founder of istockphoto and now Founder/CEO of Dissolve. They combined a beautiful blend of arts, education and technology information for the audience.

The highlight of the night was when participants pitched their ideas to the group. We had over 14 ideas to choose from. The creativity was high and, in the end, six teams were created to work on six of the ideas.

Throughout the weekend, participants were inspired with mini-sessions and mentors, who stopped in to assist and filled their stomachs with lots of food! On Saturday, Stephanie Chan, from TechPuddingkicked off the day speaking about how to validate your ideas. After lunch, e-learning consultant Stella Lee spoke about UX design and Learning Design (LX). On Sunday, the organizer of the event, Hannah Cree, prepped the participants on how to pitch their prototypes to the audience and judges.

The Teams

(listed in alphabetical order)


Team members: Daisy, Muhammad, Meet, Sharad, Andrew and Andrew

They developed a non-intrusive prototype app that allows students to text, instant message, tweet, use FB + SnapChat, while protecting their online reputation and safety. The app largely works in the background through a keyboard.

FinEd Jr.

Team members: Ben, Yanyu and Meet

Their financial education app is interactive, providing instant feedback, hands-on and self-paced curriculum with a leadership board. It also features badges to encourage engagement and shareable content.


Team members: Benny, Ben, Raymond, Diana, Nikita 

Pathfinder is a digital media app that allows young creators to craft unique digital media content, like videos, without disrupting the workflow by integrating mind maps and video editing tools.

Peer Cube

Team members: Isaac, Aaron and Jacky

Peer Cube is a mobile app that facilitates the use of inquiry based learning in an interactive classroom setting. This includes the ability for students to chat with each other, publish content, track task statuses and collaborate on a real time basis.


Members: Christopher, Brad, Katie and Megan

This app was  based on an idea from a 14 year-old member of the team. Unbroken – “you’ll be OK” – is a mobile application that helps teenage girls deal with their mental health concerns. Unbroken gives them the information, tools and support they need to manage their mental health concerns.

Zero to Hero

Members: Michael, Tina, Christopher and Carrie

Zero to Hero is a mobile game that asks teens to visualize their dream career, then analyzes their social media channels and assigns points for positive social media engagement that can be used to progress their Avatar towards achieving that career. It teaches critical thinking about social media use, while preparing today’s teens for jobs in the creative economy of tomorrow.


On Sunday night we wrapped up the weekend by inviting family, friends and the Calgary community to come out and watch the presentations on  what the teams had been working on all weekend. The judging panel was a blend of technology, education and arts experts: Mar’ce Merrell, John Scully, and James Reckseidler from Learning Through The Arts; Matt Armstrong from the Calgary Board of Education; Kevin Dahl from Robots and Pencils; Ray DePaul, Director, Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at Mount Royal University; and Gena Rotstein from Dexterity Ventures and Place2Give. We also invited the audience to vote for their favourite.   

Choosing a winning app was not easy; after the scoring was complete, all the teams were within .25 or .50 points of each other! This led to much discussion and deliberation among the judges. In the end, due to the generous sponsorship of Telus, we were able to award each team with a prize, plus award the top three teams with cash prizes.   


Pathfinder, Peer Cube and Zero to Hero 

What Will Happen to the Apps?

Truly, all the apps were fantastic! We were blown away by the teamwork, innovation and creativity of all the teams. Learning Through The Arts is committed to working together with our sponsors and community partners to either introduce each team to organizations or people that may need the technology, or find ways to develop them through the LTTA Digital Media Arts programs.

What’s Next?

This event was the the first of its kind for Learning Through The Arts, and it was a great success.  We experienced what would happen if we put a variety of people in a room and asked them to solve real world problems in education.

Moving forward we want to continue to build this community throughout Canada by hosting events like this across the country, working with local community organizations, businesses, entrepreneurs, educators, school boards and students. These events will leverage the experience of Learning Through The Arts’ with working in schools and being facilitators of creative learning.  

EDU Challenge will be the name of the events moving forward, and depending on the community / city needs, we will develop a challenge that best suits each location, including the setup and length.  


It truly takes a village to create innovative solutions. We are grateful to the sponsors, partners and participants of the EDU App challenge for seeing the vision and helping to make it a reality. We can’t wait for the next one!

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